Google co-founder: Internet openness under threat

Google co-founder Sergey Brin is worried the internet faces more threats to its freedom than ever. Photo / Thinkstock
Google co-founder Sergey Brin is worried the internet faces more threats to its freedom than ever. Photo / Thinkstock

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has hit out at Apple and Facebook for restrictions which he claims stifle innovation and threaten the openness of the internet.

Brin, who founded Google along with Larry Page in 1998, told the Guardian the principles which underpinned the creation of the internet - openness and universal access - are under facing its greatest threats.

The threats come from Government censorship, attempts by the entertainment industry to counter piracy and restrictions by two of Google's largest tech rivals.

He claims there are "very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world" and Brin is more worried now than he has been in the past about the future of the internet.

Despite once saying five years ago countries would not be able to effectively restrict access into the internet, Brin now concedes he was wrong.

While he was most concerned about the attempts of China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to restrict access to the internet within their borders, Brin also slammed Facebook and Apple for their own restrictions.

He says the companies' so-called "wall gardens", which maintain strict control over what can be done on their platforms, risked stifling innovation.

Brin says there is a lot to be lost.

"For example, all the information in apps - that data is not crawlable by web crawlers.

"You can't search it."

He says Google could not have been founded if Facebook had dominated the internet at the time.

"The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is [because] the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."

He says Facebook made it difficult to switch their data to other services, all the while "sucking down Gmail contacts for many years".

Brin also acknowledges the concerns some have over the amount of their data could be handed over to US authorities. While he says the company has been forced to hand over data - sometimes without the users' notification due to legal restrictions - the company does "turn down a lot of these requests".

"We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great.

"If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great."

- Herald Online staff

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